Police profiling foreigners "nothing new"

6:00 min

Police have taken to the subway to find and eventually deport people who are in Sweden without permission under government instructions to increase deportations. Officers' ID checks are a necessary way to enforce Sweden's regulated system of immigration, some say, while others express fear over inhumane treatment and racial profiling.

"I think it's wrong for police to lurk in the subway," says Boar Amen, who has gathered with friends just inside the Gullmarsplan subway station. "I only found out about these checks today."

"We all have human rights," says Daniel, who has heard of the subway controls by police. "Everyone deserves another chance to get their papers in order, to get permission to stay in Sweden along with the rest of us."

The police's subway presence has been seen in the light of orders from Justice Minister Beatrice Ask in December, telling the Migration Board, the Prison and Probation Service and the police to "markedly increase" the number of deportations in 2013. The centre-right government has been making deportations a priority for Swedish authorities a priority since 2009.

Only one in ten of the police checks in the subway were carried on people without permission to be in Sweden, according to the newspaper Metro.

Among the critics of the checks are police themselves, and activists such as Action Against Deportation in Stockholm."This is nothing new to us," says Emma, a member of the network who does not want her real name disclosed. "But lately people have been informing us and each other of the checks through social media."

Rafidi, another anonymous member of the network, says the checks aren't limited to the subway. "The person in the library saw the police come in and start checking people's documents there. This person, who had no papers, hid in the toilet to get away. We heard that from a legal counsel for people without papers," she says.

One the other hand, Sweden has a regulated system of immigration, meaning asylums and residence permits aren't granted to all who apply. The justice minister said in parliament this week that once a decision has been reached by the Migration Board, "those who aren't allowed to stay in Sweden have to go back home regardless of how painful that may be."

Police methods have been at the centre of the debate. Swedish law says all foreigners here have to be able to produce ID at any time. But at the same time, it's illegal for police to stop anyone in Sweden without suspecting them of another crime.

The police are being blamed for two types of checks; for using petty crime such riding the subway without a ticket or a bicycle without a helmet as a bypass to checking people's ID, and for the illegal practice of screening people with a foreign appearance.

In parliament this week, Ask said the rules for the police are clear that it is illegal for them to check people who have a certain type of appearance or, as she put it, "stand out in anyway."

Still, speaking to Swedish Radio last week, Ask said she wasn't worried by witness accounts stating that police have been profiling people based on appearance.

Last week, Stockholm's border police stopped performing ID checks in the subway, as the method has come under so much criticism. But nearly half the ID checks on foreigners in Stockholm in January were by regular police units.

"For us it's just a strategy from the border police to move this issue out of the public eye. A victory for us would be a stop to all deportations," says Rafidi, who admits her network's position is currently off the chart of the parties represented in the Swedish parliament, who all want caps on immigration to Sweden.

"I do not think it's a coincidence that the Sweden Democrats is one of the biggest parties. That has affected the other parties," says Emma.

"It's hard to know what to do when Sweden does not approve all asylum and residence permit applications. I guess it's first come, first serve," says Daniel at Gullmarsplan station. "In a way," says his friend, Boar Amen, "it's a good thing police are doing this. It shows just how many people are here without permission."

Reporter: Sven Hultberg Carlsson